Getting the big picture on phone systems is a good idea before attempting to choose or change a system for your business. Even before you get to the phone system options, you first have to evaluate your specific telephone needs.
The first aspect to consider before choosing your phone system is the number of employees that you envision having over your planning horizon – the next three years is a good view. Consider the additional extensions or lines needed for fax machines, conference rooms, reception areas, break rooms and other facilities that may utilize a phone line, like credit card machines or security systems. If potentially considering a digital system, knowing how many total concurrent calls your business might utilize is also good information to understand. And finally, you need to consider the capabilities and features that you must have (and would like to have) for your business, such as caller ID, voicemail, message notifications, on-hold music, “find-me, follow-me,” audio and video conferencing, chat, etc.
Once you understand your needs and preferences, you need to consider what type of architecture might suit your business the best.
Fundamentally, there are four business phone systems you can choose from:
1. KSU-less telephone systems
KSU-less (lacks the central “Key System Unit” of larger systems) phone systems are inexpensive solutions that can be a good option if you plan to grow no larger than ten to twelve employees. You will have some fundamental phone features and this system is easy to install and is portable, so you will be able to pick it up and move it to your next office. However, it does not provide for integrated voicemail so, if that is important, you would need to contract with your phone company at a monthly fee for each voice mailbox desired.
2. Key systems
Key systems use a special central switching device known as the “key system unit.” These systems are suitable for businesses with ten to forty employees. A key system has telephones with multiple buttons or “keys” and lights that tell which lines are in use. When you want to place a call, you just press a button to directly select the telephone company’s central office to dial out. They offer more features than KSU-less systems like intercoms, paging, speaker-phones and music-on-hold. Compared to PBX systems, Key systems are less customizable, but they do offer a good range of features at a more economical price point.
3. PBX solutions
PBX (Public Branch Exchange) systems use programmable dedicated switching devices to handle and route calls – think of it as your own, smaller version of the phone company’s central switching office. The systems are usually stored in a telecom cabinet within your premises. And, just like the Key systems, you will be able to use your preexisting wiring for phone setup. If your business has forty or more employees or requires more advanced features than offered by the Key systems, a PBX phone system may be a great choice for you. These systems can really grow, and they are easily scalable to thousands of extensions. Due to their complexity, PBX solutions require professional installation and maintenance and are typically the most expensive of the traditional phone system options.
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), is a phone system that uses the Internet, converting analog signals to digital, to send and receive telephone communications. These systems are great for businesses of all sizes. They come with advanced functions, are a great choice for businesses with multiple locations and mobile workforces. They also generally cost less than traditional phone systems to implement and operate. However, VoIP quality of service (QOS) depends on the broadband strength and how the system partitions bandwidth. These systems also require the purchase of IP phones, VoIP phone adapters and, perhaps, some other connectivity hardware.
Please understand that there are also “hybrid” versions of some of the above systems available. So, for some phone systems the definitions are a bit blurred relative to these generalities. But, if you start by fully understanding your needs, you can focus on features, expandability, quality and expense to narrow your choices and make the best decision for your business.
GCN provides businesses, SMB to Enterprise, with voice, data, cloud, colocation and data center services solutions from over 150 partner providers worldwide. Not as the typical telecommunications agency or reseller, but as their technology advisor. We determine and tailor the best solutions to meet our customers’ needs world-wide. We save our clients the time and trouble of managing one or more service providers and leverage the best solutions for them at the most cost effective price.